Generation Z: Future Jewelry Consumers

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By Terri Wallo StraussMore from this author

Generation Z is tech savvy, frugal, philanthropic, and globally aware, and soon its members will be shopping at a jewelry store near you

My 16-year-old daughter is sitting on her bed, laptop on her lap, phone in her hand. She moves seamlessly to and from each device—watching Netflix, texting, checking Snapchat and Instagram, and shopping online. This is a typical evening in my house with a typical teenager. Experts tell me that each day she will send or receive at least 60 texts and spend nearly 7.5 hours using technology.

Welcome to Generation Z

Coming on the heels of the Millennials (also known as Gen Y), this is the first generation to never experience a time when the internet did not exist. Specifics about who qualifies as a member of Generation Z vary, but Ad Age defines them as consumers ranging in age from 2-19 (and some say those up to 20 years of age). Though they may not be your customer right now, within three years, the top of the generation will be graduating from college, and in five to 10 years, they will be the new consumers—in a big way too, as they already make up more than 25 percent of the U.S. population. This generation has many complexities, which is why experts say that you need to start gearing up now for what's ahead.

Who are They?

Generation Z is a far different generation than those who have come before them for many reasons.

They are plugged in like never before. It is estimated that today, 65 percent of 12 year olds have a mobile device, and that number increases to 79 percent for 12 to 15 year olds. In addition, 95 percent use the internet daily, and 25 percent have their own tablets.

But it isn't just about being technologically proficient, says Chris Ciunci, co-founder of TribalVision in Providence, an outsourced marketing firm that develops strategies for jewelry companies and others. "There has been an incredible pace of advancement in the technology sector over the past 15 to 20 years," he says. "Generation Z has grown up in an environment with so much innovation that they have been forced to keep up and are self-taught, technologically independent individuals. They have gone from a flip phone to an iPod to an iPhone and now the new Apple Watch." Today's kids are technology influencers to the older generations, including the Millennials.

"Because the Gen Z-ers are exploring different social networks than Facebook, the older generations will look to them for guidance on how and why to use Vine, Google+, Instagram, and the next new social network," says Matthew Perosi, an internet analyst and consultant.

They are globally connected. "There is no other generation that has been so connected with the world," says Ciunci. "Through social media, Gen Z has been able to maintain and cultivate social relationships with people all over the world."

Andrea Hill agrees. Hill owns StrategyWerx and its parent company Hill Management Group LLC in Chicago, which provides consulting services to a wide range of clients in the jewelry industry. She has studied Generation Z extensively.

"Generation Z thinks globally because they can reach around the world," says Hill. "They have opinions about a certain country [e.g., its politics, economy, etc.] not because they read about it in the paper, but because they or their friends are connected to someone in that country through technology."

Unfortunately, Gen Z is also more globally aware because of terrorism. "This is the Homeland generation," she says. "They grew up in the shadow of 9-11, and their entire childhood has seen a conflict in the Middle East. They have a heightened awareness that the world can be a dangerous place."

They are deal hunters who buy online. According to Ciunci, this generation currently buys one out of every 10 items online, but that number is expected to grow as this generation gets older and has more of its own money to spend.

And they do their research. Gen Z-ers visit multiple websites, use apps that compare prices and alert them when prices drop, and regularly search and apply coupon codes, which is fitting since, according to Ellen Fruchtman of Fruchtman Marketing in Toledo, Ohio, this generation likes a good deal.

"Because this generation has been witness to the market crashing and watching their parents struggle, they are going to be much more frugal than the generation that preceded them," says Fruchtman. "The Gen Y generation grew up with Boomer parents who overall had a far more stable, economic climate. These same parents instilled a level of confidence and entitlement no other generation has seen before them. The economic downturn was considered a blip on their over-indulged radar. Gen Z, however, did not grow up with the same level of indulgence, and for a very large part of their lives, the economic climate has been murky at best. This younger generation is far less optimistic, and probably the single most skeptical and frugal shoppers we have seen to date."

They are philanthropic. "Even though the economic climate Generation Z is growing up in is improving, many still grew up in households that were affected by the recession," says Ciunci. In addition, experts say this generation is used to seeing images of suffering around the world. Because they are so connected, technology allows them to view images just minutes after a natural or manmade disaster.

"Generation Z wants to make an impact on the world. Their access to information and global awareness has made them very alert to the problems we are facing," says Ciunci.

How to Reach Them

Where do you start in terms of marketing to Generation Z? Experts say that at this point, jewelry doesn't really resonate with this group. They don't have the buying power yet and if they are looking at jewelry, it's fashion jewelry under $200. However, in the coming years, they will be your consumer and there are steps the industry must take now to prepare.

Marty Hurwitz believes the industry must first acknowledge that it hasn't moved forward with changing generational nuances. Hurwitz, CEO and founder of MVI Marketing Ltd. and developer of the Jewelry Consumer Opinion Council, says the jewelry industry has struggled to keep up with Millennials and continues to market to Baby Boomers, especially men.

"Today's Millennials are often too intimidated to even walk into a jewelry store," he says. "If they do buy fine jewelry, they may visit a department store." He believes that this intimidation will extend to Generation Z as they get older if retail doesn't change its marketing strategies.

Fruchtman agrees, and believes that in regard to retail, this is the first generation where retail rules are out the door. "First and foremost, this generation is hyper-connected and will price check everything to ensure they are getting a deal. Traditional retail selling techniques, including not mentioning price and hiding price tags, will only make them more skeptical of that retailer."

This generation also cares little about brand loyalty. "If you are dependent on your brand name selling your products, [know that] Gen Z is less likely to care about that," says Ciunci. "Instead, they are most interested in shopping around their vast marketplace to find something trendy, inexpensive, and innovative."

Despite some of these challenges, experts say that by understanding Generation Z and what attracts them, the jewelry industry can begin to shift. Here's what needs to be done:

Create an Infrastructure

No one could have predicted the popularity of Amazon or Facebook or smartphones any more than you can predict what technology will exist five or 10 years from now. However, you can and should know what technology is currently out there and stay on top of developments in the field.

"It's important for a company to have an internal infrastructure so they are ready to market," Hill says. "That means getting up to speed on business and internet technology now, and then keeping up with the changes that are bound to come. At any given time, a business must be able to see which customers were on social media, what decisions were made by which marketing efforts."

Hill believes there's a lot more to online marketing than writing a great headline for social media. Companies have to have the ability to look beyond an online post and have the internal systems in place to crunch numbers to see what's working and what isn't. "Which posts work? What products sell first? What are the price point trends? What categories sell best, etc.," she says.

Tell your Story

This generation likes a story, says Hurwitz. Because jewelry has no functionality, "it's always had to rely on myth and romance," he says. Tell that story because this generation hasn't heard it.

However, make sure it is a saleable story. "You can't market a story that's not saleable," warns Hill. "Eight to 10 years from now when we want Generation Z to buy fine jewelry, and they have friends all over the world, have a strong sense of social justice, are philanthropic and environmentally conscious, and can find information in a few seconds, you better be prepared to market them a saleable story." A saleable story could be explaining how you ethically source your materials and how you give back to help the world, says Perosi.

While you're telling that saleable story, keep in mind that your messages should be engaging and to the point. "This generation is impatient," says Ciunci. "They tend to skim instead of read. It's important that any message is not only engaging, but also straight to the point.

"And don't forget the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words," he warns, as this generation tends to "communicate more with symbols, pictures, videos, and the occasional emoji." Product images should be big, bold, and high resolution. "It's also good to use younger models (early 20s) to model your jewelry as well. My best advice would be to take a look at brands that successfully market to younger generations to give you a good idea of how you need to present your products."

Also, think video. "The best approach for advertising today would be to provide educational information about your products or brand," says Perosi. "They don't want to wear a gold ring right now, but they are willing to watch a how-to video on any topic. Videos need to be fun, entertaining, and even convey a cool and socially desirable status that the Gen Z-er should attain."

Rethink your Online Presence

When looking at your online presence, remember that this generation uses search engines like no other. "It's important to make sure you really study search engine optimization [SEO] or contact professionals who know how to optimize your website so that people can find it via Google and Bing," advises Ciunci.

Since this generation is likely to be viewing products on a smartphone or tablet, make sure your site has responsive designs so the pages will look good no matter what device they're being viewed on. Also, because this generation talks to each other constantly, have many product images and social share buttons on your site.

And look beyond your own website and social media pages. Experts say Gen Z looks at peer reviews on websites and independent sites and is used to reaching out via social networks to ask friends their opinions.

Hurwitz shares a story of his nephew, who was about to get engaged. He and his girlfriend turned to Yelp, a website and app where people can leave reviews about virtually any business or service. The couple began researching jewelry stores and looked at what Yelp users had to say about those stores.

"Peer reviews are critical for Millennials and will be for Generation Z," says Hurwitz. "Consumers look for negative reviews and, more importantly, negative reviews where the owner has not responded." It's crucial for a business owner to address any negative reviews because, while consumers will understand that people make mistakes, they need reassurance that owners care.

Make Browsing and Buying Convenient

Growing up with the internet has allowed this generation to access anything they need at any time. As a result, they can be impatient, so your job will be to make shopping easy.

You can start by making sure they don't have to sift through your entire website to find products that appeal to them.

"You need to ask yourself, which of my products might appeal best to Generation Z [i.e., products under $200, made of silver, incorporating modern designs] and ask yourself, how can I present these products directly to this audience," says Ciunci. "A good way might be for you to introduce a new landing page with their interests in mind, showcasing the products that you believe would appeal to them. You can incorporate paid search advertising, social sharing, asset building, and SEO best practices to ensure Generation Z can easily locate this new landing page."

If you're a brick-and-mortar store, give them their own physical space within the store. This generation won't sift through a lot of products to find what's directed at them. They also prefer not to ask permission, so you need to make it easy for them to pick up products and try them on.

"Make the section a little more aesthetically pleasing to the generation," says Ciunci. "This generation likes technology, so think about what they would like—maybe it would be a lounge with soft seating and neon lighting where they can charge their phones or iPads. Ideally something like this would be placed near the section you have designated for their products. They can snap a photo of your product, retreat to the lounge to send it out on social networks, text a few friends and ask them what they think, and then make the final decision on their purchase. Products that have an easy purchasing experience will help drive their decision in the marketplace."

Bring in a Social Cause and Think Green

This generation wants to make a positive impact on the world and their global awareness will stretch into what and how they buy. According to Fruchtman, this is not a "Me" generation that earns to spend. "This generation cares about the world, the environment, and social awareness," she says. "They will support products that do the same. If I were a jewelry designer, I would consider tying into charities, providing information on product sourcing, and being fully transparent."

Perosi adds that this generation will demand that businesses give back and show that they genuinely care. "It's not good enough to donate money to a local charity anymore; business owners need to actually give more than just money and prove that they are doing it, too," he says. He suggests documenting volunteer activities in social media posts in order to broadcast your good intentions.

Also, don't forget that Generation Z has grown up thinking about environmental toxins and being green, says Hill. They will be conscious that jewelry manufacturing can be toxic, and they will think about where that diamond may have come from. They are more conscious about what goes into the things they buy. If you're not already looking into greener manufacturing practices or ethically sourced materials, you're going to be behind the ball when this generation starts shopping for fine jewelry.

Adapt to Changing Trends

"Though it's hard to predict how this generation will react in 10 years, they will be getting married later in life (if at all)," says Fruchtman. "You might need to be prepared for fewer bridal transactions."

However, while traditional bridal transactions may decrease with this generation, non-traditional wedding jewelry is just getting started. This generation embraces diversity and has come of age when same-sex marriage has become legal. There is an opportunity for growth here, but Hurwitz notes that the industry is currently lagging in its marketing to same-sex couples and even to heterosexual couples who make decisions together. Instead, the industry still focuses on the traditional male buyer.

Customization is also expected to be a big trend with Generation Z. Perosi admits that although it's premature to identify shopping trends (because this next generation is proud of its individuality, is creative and innovative, and wants to be empowered), he expects Generation Z to continue to be interested in one-of-a-kind jewelry that pairs with their personal style.

"I'm already noticing the greater interest in custom design with older generations who look to the jeweler to create the jewelry," he says. "I expect that there will be simple apps that empower Gen Z-ers to become amateur jewelry designers who then have the jewelry brought to life by a professional jewelry designer or retail jeweler."

Regardless of what trends Generation Z ultimately adopts, Perosi remains positive about this next generation of jewelry consumers.

"Jewelry has been around for thousands of years in all shapes and sizes," he says. "Jewelry will never go away. Designers need to be agile in their designs to stay connected with the short attention spans of their maturing Generation Z customers."

Hill agrees and adds that with preparation and agility, businesses can adjust to this generation like any other. She recommends and guides her own customers toward implementing proper technology, utilizing their marketing knowledge and savvy, and ensuring they have the right retail and merchandising strategies in place. Above all, businesses must stay flexible.

"Businesses should make constant and incremental adjustments for the future rather than having to learn everything at once 10 years from now," she says. "Businesses always benefit by building with one brick at a time, a little every day or every year—that's manageable. If you have to tear down the whole house and build a new house each decade, it's disruptive, slow, messy, and not guaranteed to work. So start laying bricks now [and you'll] be ready for Generation Z and beyond."

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Terri Wallo Strauss

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